Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has bowed to pressure from the government and the public by closing all of its stores after widespread anger that he intended to flout the UK lockdown.
Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, wrote to all of its staff on Monday within 30 minutes of Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down all non-essential retailers, claiming that selling sporting and fitness equipment made the company a vital asset and the shops should remain open.
However, Ashley’s Frasers Group said on Tuesday it would now not open either chain, even though government policy excludes bicycle shops from closure under new measures to ensure physical distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.
Sports Direct suggested it may reopen in future if “given the go-ahead by the government”. The company said in a statement: “Please note we are contacting them at all levels, including attempting to get confirmation from the prime minister.”
In the email on Monday evening, the chief finance officer, Chris Wootton, told staff: “We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home … indeed, home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself.
“Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms, the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the government’s current social-distancing guidance).”
The retailer’s move attracted widespread criticism and the company came under increasing pressure over the wellbeing of its workers.
On Tuesday morning, Michael Gove, a senior cabinet minister, made it clear on ITV’s Good Morning Britain that Sports Direct’s shops were not essential and should shut. Gove said Ashley should “rescind what he said”.